“Helen, do you know a Frenchman called D’Arblet?”
Helen had been at her dressing-table—her back was turned to him—he did not see the livid pallor which blanched her cheeks at his question.
A little pause, during which she busied herself among the trifles upon the table.
“No, I never heard the name in my life,” she said, at length.
“That is odd—because neither have I—and yet the man has sent me a parcel.” It was of so little importance to him, that it did not occur to him that there could possibly be any occasion for secresy concerning Vera’s commission. What could an utter stranger have to send to him that could possibly concern him in any way?
It did not strike him how strained and forced was the voice in which his wife presently asked him a question.
“And the parcel! You have opened it?”
“No, not yet,” began Maurice, stifling a yawn; and he would have gone on to explain to her that it was not yet actually in his possession, although, probably, he would not have told her that it was Vera who was to give it to him; only at that minute the maid came into the room, and he changed the subject.
But Helen had guessed that it was Vera who was the bearer of that parcel. How it had come to pass she could not tell, but too surely she divined that Vera had in her possession those fatal letters that she had once written to the French vicomte; the letters that would blast her for ever in her husband’s estimation, and turn his luke-warmness and his coldness into actual hatred and repulsion.
And was it likely that Vera, with such a weapon in her hands, would spare her? What woman, with so signal a revenge in her power, would forego the delight of wreaking it upon the woman who had taken from her the man she loved? Helen knew that in Vera’s place she would show no mercy to her rival.
It was all clear as daylight to her now; the appointment at the vicarage gate, the something which she had said in her note she had for him; the whole mystery of the secret meeting between them—it was Vera’s revenge. Vera, whom Maurice loved, and whom she, Helen, hated with such a deadly hatred!
And then, in the silence of the night, whilst her husband slept, and whilst the thunder and the wind howled about her home, Helen crept forth from her room, and sought for that fatal packet of letters which her husband had told her he had “not yet” opened.
Oh, if she could only find them and destroy them before he ever saw them again! Long and patiently she looked for them, but her search was in vain. She ransacked his study and his dressing-room; she opened every drawer, and fumbled in every pocket, but she found nothing.
She was frightened, too, to be about the house like a thief in the night. Every gust of wind that creaked among the open doors made her start, every flash of lightning that lighted up the faces of the old family portraits, looking down upon her with their fixed eyes, made her turn pale and shiver, lest she should see them move, or hear them speak.